Thursday, December 13, 2012

'Tis The Season For Families to Come Together...

    There is one thing the holiday season does unfailingly, and with the mighty force of all that is powerful. From Thanksgiving Day through the first day of the new year, it is as if the very stars in the heavens shine down as one to spotlight all that is good, bad and ugly about our families. The pull of our family ties is so mighty, we journey across town, across borders, across oceans to share the season's celebrations together, dragging all our nagging resentments, petty irritations, grudges and disappointments, right along with our crock pots, pies and presents.
   “Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we're related for better or for worse...and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”
 Rick Riordan, The Sea of Monsters
 It sometimes feels this tedious tradition is more an exercise in contradiction than an act of devotion, loyalty and bonding. None the less, we pour great energy and effort into the scheduling of arrivals and accommodations, the preparation of meals, the purchase of gifts, the decorating and the photographs that will document it all. All this is done so that we can unite  in restraint-mode, holding our tongues and our wise cracks to vent later with spouses and friends who sympathize. Small wonder nerves are tense, tempers flare, and the neighborhood watering hole is always packed on holiday nights. Ah yes, it is a season to celebrate family, like it or not.

One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.”― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

“Home is where you are loved the most and act the worst.”― Marjorie Pay Hinekley

   It has been my observation that the ordeal of returning home for the holidays doesn't take on it's true colors until that stage in life when we have moved out and on to create our own world. Somehow the new found independence, along with a partner, husband or wife, new friends and interests changes us. It's not that we're not drawn, or even long to visit our relations. It is more that we don't wish to step back into the place we were so eager to leave. We don't want to be treated like the child, the little sister, the youngest again. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we inevitably turn into the bratty little kid we always were. It's disappointing to realize that despite how far we have come in life, we have changed so little at the core. 

     For me, going home meant stepping under the scrutinizing, judgemental eye of my mother. From an early age, I understood that no matter how I tried, there was no pleasing her. If I played quietly in my room, she would prefer I was outside with friends. If I spent time with my friends, I was limiting my options. If I wore makeup, it was always too much, but without it she said I looked plain. If my hair was long, she liked it better short. If it was short, it wasn't feminine enough. When I was married, he wasn't the right man for me. When I got divorced, I had ruined his life. It took me years of living away (and a good therapist), to accept what I wanted as the right or best choice for me. Holidays were tough because I had my family issues, so it wasn't long before my own son developed family issues as well. 

     Despite it all, I always went home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The few times my parents came to me, something always went haywire. I remember the first time they came for Thanksgiving, my oven caught on fire at the exact moment their car pulled into the driveway. While I ran the turkey next door to finish cooking, my son blasted the oven with the fire extinguisher. What a mess. All I could think about was what Mother was going to say. It was simply easier for me to go there, because I could leave when my control began to wain.

“When your mother asks, "Do you want a piece of advice?" it's a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway.”― Erma Bombeck

     This year is the second Christmas since Mother died, and the third since Dad passed away. I have realized that despite the old torture, I actually miss those holiday visits. There was plenty of good stuff during those visits, although I was generally to engrossed in my own thoughts to pay much attention. 

    Now, I'm the mom, and mother-in-law, visiting for the holidays. I often wonder what my daughter-in-law goes through each time I come to them. It seems I have inherited my mother's knack for triggering mini-disasters when I visit. Once it was mice in the walls, then came a leak in the bathroom. There was the burn in the kitchen flooring, and last visit the kids had been exposed to head lice. The poor woman is always a nervous wreck anticipating my reactions. At this very moment she is no doubt deep cleaning every inch of their house, rearranging furniture or painting the extra bathroom, hoping to make everything perfect. 

    I am determined to put her at ease the moment I arrive. I'll wear something that says I'm comfortable, and will avoid being so over dressed I intimidate. I understand their life is more casual then mine, and I want her to know it's alright. I really don't mind sleeping on the sofa in the family room, and I hope she will believe me this time. No apologies necessary. I'll tell her she looks pretty, and that I'm proud she's going back to school and doing so well. I'll gush over how the grandkids have grown and blossomed into such smart, well-mannered children under her good parenting. Above all, I'll be a good mother-in-law, leaving the opinions and advice at home. I'm there to enjoy their company and celebrate Christmas, and I want them to enjoy their holiday too.
When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching--they are your family.”
― Jim Butcher, Proven Guilty
     In the end, they will be glad I'm gone, and I'll be glad to get home. But no matter what, I hope we will all be happy we spent the holiday together this year.

Happy Holidays to You and to Your!


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